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Theme Parks: Adventures in New England


I really wish that I could write about Disneyland.

My parents had promised us over and over again that we would go, but we never did. To the six year old me, a promise was unbreakable. Every summer I waited for that magic moment when my parents would tell us kids to pack our bags for the vacation of a lifetime.


We watched the classic Disney VHS tapes all the time. Every so often an advertisement for the Magic Kingdom would play on the television. I would pretend that the two kids were my little brother and I. As the commercial says- "there never has been a better time to make the dream come true." 
 
 

Summers passed and we never got any closer to the Magic Kingdom. In my parents' defense, life changed as well. My dad had to work multiple jobs just to put meat on the table. The original promise to my brother and I now included three other siblings as well. 

We never did go on a "dream family vacation." There were plans here and there but they always fell through. So my parents did the next best thing- we explored local theme parks.

Some of my best childhood memories were riding a new roller coaster or eating deep fried oreos for the first time. Even the times I went on the spinny rides and got sick, it was an achievement. I had faced my fears and done something cool. 

Here are some of the adventures and misadventures that we had as a family-   

Playland

Playland was one of the very first theme parks that I can remember. 

This was when our family was still growing and my little brother was too young to go on any rides with me. So instead, my riding buddy was my dad! Yep, my old man kept his belt on and acted like a big kid the whole time! 

The most famous ride at Playland is the Dragon Coaster. It's an old-fashioned wooden roller coaster. I remember even thinking at the time that it was pretty old. Unfortunately, I did not meet the height requirement to go on it but in all honesty I probably would have been too afraid to- just look at that beast!


My favorite ride at Playland were the bumper cars, although the log flume comes at a close second!

Bumper cars are usually awesome but what happened at Playland was one of best experiences at ANY theme park. Since I was too young to drive my own, my dad was the driver. He is a big man and when he sat down in the seat with me, a fiendish grin grew on his face. As soon as the light turned green he punched down on the gas like a getaway driver. 

He drove the bumper car like he stole it. While other people were getting into fender benders my dad was doing laps around the track, building up speed. Then we saw it, a lone bumper car by the edge of the track. We moved into t-bone position and just before we made impact my dad jolted himself forward which turned our bumper car into a battering ram. 


We slammed into the other car like a freight train. We hit it so hard that it tipped sideways up against the metallic wall. If it weren't for the safety harnesses, they would have fallen out of their car! Amidst the shrieks, my dad and I burst out laughing. We had done the near impossible! 

Hershey Park

What started out as a family road trip quickly changed into something new entirely once we found ourselves having car trouble in the middle of Pennsylvania. With our car broken down, I remember waiting a whole day in the lobby of an auto repair place. Luckily, I had a trusty Gameboy Color to help pass the time. After losing two days on the road, my parents made the decision to try and salvage the rest of the trip as much as they could by doing things in Pennsylvania instead. 

Back at the hotel, we read through the brochures on local area attractions and set our sights on Hershey Park. That night I dreamed about going to the Willy Wonka land of M&M's, thrill rides, and Hershey kisses. What a fun chocolate-filled day it was going to be! 

The next morning we loaded up in our rental car and reached the empty gates of Hershey Park.


It was closed for the season!

We stared helplessly at the wonderful rides from the other side of the gate as my dad channeled his inner Clark Griswold in a profanity-filled fusillade. The aluminum wrapped Hershey kisses smiled at us from afar as our family vacation crumbled into bits of frustration and disappointment that were too hard to swallow. We had reached the end of the line.  

After much torment, we realized that all was not lost, that a bit of chocolate happiness still awaited for us. The Hershey's Chocolate World was still open. 

      

The Chocolate World gives a factory tour including an assembly line that shows how they create Hershey kisses. Candy is aplenty and you can get specialty items like giant-sized Hershey bars and all the M&M's that you could ask for. Although our family vacation had a rocky start, it had a pretty sweet ending. 

Lake Quassapaug

Lake Quassapaug or "Quassy" as they call it is a local favorite. 

Hidden in Connecticut, it is the perfect spot for quick summer getaway. You can take a dip in the lake, have a family picnic, or enjoy the family-friendly rides. As for me, I was convinced that "Quassy" was some Loch Ness monster that preyed on unsuspecting swimmers.

Our family actually went to Lake Quassy as part of a company picnic. The blue collar factory jobs that my dad had always hosted fun holiday parties for the families of the employees. After eating some hamburgers and hotdogs at the picnic area, we set out to explore the park. 

First up was the Mad Mouse-


This crazy contraption looked like a real life version of the "Mouse Trap" board game. This tiny roller coaster really scared me because I thought that it was about to break. You could hear it go "clickety-clackety" as the little cars went up and down the track. I hung on tightly as the little mouse cars took ninety-degree turns and gave us all whiplash. 

We explored some of the other rides. My brother and I fondly remember a little dragon roller coaster with gentle slopes and turns that was just a lot of fun to ride. We went on it several times. There were bumper cars, a merry-go-round, but there was one ride that we would always remember-


The classic American train ride.

My brother and I hopped aboard the Quassy Express for a nice and relaxing tour of the park. As we fastened our seatbelts, the train conductor reminded everyone to keep their hands and legs inside the train at all times. A couple minutes later the whistle blew and we were on our way!

The little engine that could chugged along through the outskirts of the park. The train track took us through some heavily wooded areas. My brother and I high-fived some of the low hanging big leaves from the trees around us. From the front of the train, we heard something like "Hey, stop that!" 

A handful of slow-moving minutes later, the train came to a gentle stop. As we disembarked we laughed about what had happened, my brother and I never got into trouble like that. As we headed towards our next destination we heard shouting from behind...

The train conductor was following us.

  

He was in his late teens, significantly older than we were and boy was he pi**ed. We couldn't even make out half the words he was saying but this disgruntled employee was looking for a fight. I stayed close to my younger brother as he tried to confront us. We kept walking and as we got closer to other people, the train conductor ended his pursuit. 

Luckily, my brother and I had stayed together the whole time. Had he cornered one of us it could have been bad. Lake Quassy might be a quaint New England amusement park, but for me, it was more like R.L. Stein's "Horror Land." 

Six Flags: New England

The closest that our family got to Disneyland was Six Flags: New England. Instead of Mickey and Goofy there was Bugs Bunny and Batman. Six Flags had thrill rides galore and was where is the action is!

This vacation was a guys trip. It was my dad, my younger brother, and myself. The three of us had full reign of the park. Not to mention, it was in the middle of Fright Fest, it was going to be a great time!

Six Flags: New England has tons to do and even more things to buy! I couldn't stop grinning while seeing all of the DC heroes merchandise. I remember there being a huge video arcade as well, but I never had the chance to go in. There were too many attractions pulling us towards different directions.

First up was Batman the Stunt Show-

    

The Caped Crusader ziplined across the stage to save the day. He fought motorcycle riding henchmen to protect Gotham from the Riddler. Explosions flared and a Burton-era Batmobile zoomed around the track- it was awesome! Although the Batman looked like Michael Keaton, he definitely fought more like Adam West.

After the show we chowed down on some fair food and made the rookie mistake of going on a spinny ride. I can't recall the name of it but this one was a bit more intense than your average twirler because you were lying down. Yes, lying face down while flying in circles, what could go wrong!

Well, I almost lost my lunch! I had to take a timeout to recover. 

Once I regained my composure it was time for Superman: Ride of Steel


It's a bird, it's a plane, no it's a 50 minute wait to get on the ride!

Boy was it worth it! Superman the ride takes you to the skies and then underground! You rocket through a tunnel as smoke machines go off. The ride is fast, unique, and super fun! Had there been no wait time I would have gone on it several times but it was starting to get dark and our adventure was coming to an end. The zombies were coming out of their graves for fright fest.  

Six Flags: New England has a ton of things to do, you can't do it all in one day. However, it was the perfect way to spend time with my dad and my brother. The following theme park is my personal favorite- 

Lake Compounce 

Lake Compounce is probably the definitive New England amusement park. Built in 1846, Lake Compounce is the oldest continuously-operating park in the United States. Famous for its wooden roller coasters, they offer a variety of classic and modern attractions. 

This trip was a whole family affair. We're talking a family reunion with aunts/uncles, cousins, grandparents, who came from all parts of the country. As we entered the park, my siblings and I were split into small groups with different family members.

I was paired up with my aunt and her kids- it was the dream team. My cousins and I were very close in age and during the summers was when we got a chance to hangout. We were diehard Pokemon and video game players. At Lake Compounce we had a total blast. This was where I tried deep fried Oreos for the first time and I won one of those strength games by channeling my inner John Henry and slamming down the hammer as hard as I could. 

The main attraction was the newly released Boulder Dash ride.   


Boulder Dash won several awards at the time and was the go-to ride. As a wooden roller coaster it lacks the loops and twists of other thrill rides but it still delivers a spectacular descent through the trees and around the mountain. Along the way, you can catch breathtaking views of the park and the lake- truly a one of a kind experience. 

Next up was my personal favorite- Ghost Hunt. 


Ghost Hunt is a real treat. You ride through a backlight-lit haunted house while armed with a blaster. My cousins and I put our video game skills to the test by shooting as many spooks as we could. We competed for the high-score and at the end of the ride we had all become honorary Ghostbusters. 

However, the ghosts were not the only things that vanished. 

While I was on the ride with my cousins, my younger brother had gone missing.


In another section of the park, my younger brother was lost and my mom went into full meltdown mode. 

He had been with my uncles who didn't have kids of their own. It was one of those times where they looked away for a second and he was gone. Suddenly, the entire park seemed enormous, where was he?

Not since E.T., had such a massive search party been assembled. Groups were sent out to all corners of the park, we were to leave no bag of popcorn unturned. We started calling my brother's name and asking others if they had seen a little boy matching his description.

Before my mom called in the National Guard, we found him!

He has standing by himself looking at a Ferris Wheel and had simply wandered off. The poor little guy had no idea that his face had been on the back of a milk carton. He was quickly embraced by the family and smothered with hugs and kisses and exclamation of joy! 

Lake Compounce is a real treasure. I highly recommend checking it out if you are in the area. It may not have the thrills of Six Flags but all of the rides are fun and it has a special charm that can only be found in the woods of New England. This vacation also holds special significance since it would be the last time that our entire family would be together in one place.  

Fast forward to today

Five theme parks, five different experiences, but one thing remained the same- the importance of family.


My dad worked hard to provide for us. My parents did they best they could with what they had. My siblings and I developed such strong bonds because we were always together and we always looked out for each other. Now that I am older I have my own family to take care of.  

It's my turn to become Clark Griswold and to start planning our own family vacations.

We have a few ideas of places to go, one of them involves a little magic


 








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jkatz Posted on Jun 23, 2018 at 06:10 AM

I'm starting to think that the small local theme parks are better than the household name ones. Anybody can go with their family to Disney World, and hundreds of kids probably get lost there every day. But searching for your little brother at Lake Compounce? That makes for a much more interesting story, in my opinion.
PS: You have a lovely family! And that hat makes you look like a PA on the new Star Wars movies.

mickyarber Posted on Jun 20, 2018 at 03:11 PM

Love all these stories. Reminds me a lot of my childhood.

Superman Posted on Jun 20, 2018 at 04:45 AM

You're like me in that neither of us ever had a Disney vacation growing up, but it sounds like you, again like me, had a lot of fun anyways with the things you did get to do. This was an enjoyable read.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Jun 19, 2018 at 06:01 PM

I want to ride Boulder Dash! A roller coaster through nature sounds amazing. Glad you got to go to these smaller parks, a special experience not everybody has.

NLogan Posted on Jun 18, 2018 at 11:59 PM

My dad also was a master of the profanity fusilade raining bombs on our young ears. We broke down in Yellowstone once. My brother and I also hung around the auto mechanic shop all day while the mechanic drove my dad into Montana to get parts. We discovered an awesome ice cream shop that has since become tradition every time we go.

Vaporman87 Posted on Jun 18, 2018 at 07:09 PM

Such great memories from some amazing places. Here's to hoping you guys finally get to make the trip to "the most magical place on Earth".

And if you do, keep an eye out for a special dollar bill hidden safely away on Tom Sawyer Island. LOL

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